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Mr. Steen: Very much.

Mr. Taylor: Good.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) reminded us in an intervention of the original sin of any benefits system. The rich do not need it and the poor qualify, but there is a group in the middle. We all know that from representing our constituents.

The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), whose views in these matters I have always respected, chased a Treasury phantom a couple of times round the Chamber. Nothing he said in that sense was compatible with the rate of growth of legal aid expenditure, which is little short of exponential. I am, however, sympathetic to other methods of dispute resolution and I join him in that. I am also sympathetic to any effort to separate conceptually criminal legal aid from civil legal aid because they are not the same thing, as he and I know.

I hope that I have done justice to the comments of right hon. and hon. Members in this debate. I have tried to address the points at issue. I am confident that I am right in recommending that the House agrees to the order.

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5.38 pm

Mr. Boateng: The confidence--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask leave of the House.

Mr. Boateng: By leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker. The confidence that the Minister has in his own judgment is not shared by the Opposition. We are gravely disappointed by his failure to take on board the points that we have sought to make or, indeed, to be fair, some of the points made by his hon. Friends, however recent their arrival in the Chamber this afternoon.

The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) did not grace us with his presence at the outset of the debate, but he did not feel constrained from making a highly mischievous intervention, which was entirely in character. We heard from him and from the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) the true voice of the Conservative party on these issues. We saw the true faces and neither of them was particularly pretty.

The comments by the hon. Members for South Hams and for Brentford and Isleworth were in stark contrast to the mellifluous tones, albeit somewhat excitable towards the end, of the Minister. They suggested that somehow publicly-funded legal services and legal aid were a distortion of the market. That was the most incredible statement because it clearly revealed the belief that not only poor people, but people of moderate and modest means, about whom the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth purported to be concerned, should not be able to look to central funds and should not be able to look to a committee such as the legal aid advisory committee to advise the Lord Chancellor to ensure that the legal aid system holds the ring for justice in the adversarial process envisaged in our legal procedures.

The Minister said that the Lord Chancellor had given the committee a fair trial and had decided to dispense with it. When did that trial take place? Who was the counsel for the prosecution and who for the defence? We know who the solicitor for the prosecution was--no lesser person than the Minister himself, who clearly has it in for the committee. One can understand why--because the committee is tackling issues which are embarrassing to Conservative Members.

The committee is tackling the issue of the failure of the market system, albeit it ameliorated in its more extreme forms by the existence of a legal aid system, to provide quality access to justice for all our people and to give people of modest and moderate means, be they--I shall use the class terms now adopted by Conservatives Members, especially by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth--members of the middle class or the working class, access to justice. At the moment, all too many ordinary working people and people of modest and moderate means are denied that access. It is right that we should look to a Lord Chancellor's advisory committee. Conservatives Members--one hon. Member in particular--asked what the committee does that is so worth while and worth preserving. The committee, after all, talks of waste. Is that not important? Is it not important to highlight waste in the legal aid system? Is it not rather important to commission research into how solicitors deliver a service? That was precisely why the committee commissioned Wolfson college, so that the management information, so balefully lacking in the Lord

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Chancellor's Department, was provided and so that action to curb waste was taken and taken effectively. Is there a Conservative Member who will rise from his seat to oppose that? Not a sound.

If the committee is not doing that--

Mr. Stephen rose --

Mr. Deva rose --

Mr. Boateng: I may have been tempting fate. Indeed, I was tempting fate, but I shall proceed.

Mr. Stephen rose --

Mr. Deva rose --

Mr. Boateng: Well, I shall let one voice be heard.

Mr. Deva: If the committee is so marvellous, as the hon. Gentleman claims, why, in another breath, does he say that nothing works properly in the legal aid system?

Mr. Boateng: Because the Lord Chancellor will not listen to the committee; because the Lord Chancellor time and again turns a deaf ear and a blind eye to the manifest inadequacies of the system; because the Lord Chancellor time and again seeks to impose an ideologically driven, market- led, Treasury-inspired package of solutions to the crises that exist in access to justice and delivery of legal services.

We shall push this matter to a Division. We believe that the committee ought to have been kept in existence. We believe, indeed, that its powers and its resources ought to have been strengthened to make it a more efficient watchdog of the public purse and to enable it more effectively to protect and to preserve the interests of the consumer from the deprivations of the Treasury-inspired solutions that have brought us to the crisis which besets the courts and the legal aid system.

We will oppose the motion and we shall continue to oppose the Lord Chancellor as he seeks to undermine the legal aid system and as he seeks to deny people of modest and moderate means the access to justice that is their due.

Question put: --

The House divided: Ayes 159, Noes 150.

Division No. 42] [5.44 pm


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Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)

Alexander, Richard

Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)

Banks, Robert (Harrogate)

Bellingham, Henry

Bendall, Vivian

Beresford, Sir Paul

Body, Sir Richard

Booth, Hartley

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)

Bowis, John

Brandreth, Gyles

Brazier, Julian

Brooke, Rt Hon Peter

Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)

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Browning, Mrs Angela

Burns, Simon

Burt, Alistair

Butcher, John

Butler, Peter

Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)

Carrington, Matthew

Channon, Rt Hon Paul

Chapman, Sydney

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coe, Sebastian

Congdon, David

Conway, Derek

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)

Cope, Rt Hon Sir John

Couchman, James

Davis, David (Boothferry)

Deva, Nirj Joseph

Delvin, Tim

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Dover, Den

Duncan, Alan

Duncan Smith, Iain

Dunn, Bob

Durant, Sir Anthony

Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter

Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)

Evans, Roger (Monmouth)

Evennett, David

Fabricant, Michael

Fenner, Dame Peggy

Fishburn, Dudley

Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)

Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)

Freeman, Rt Hon Roger

Fry, Sir Peter

Gale, Roger

Gallie, Phil

Gardiner, Sir George

Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan

Gillan, Cheryl

Gorst, Sir John

Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)

Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)

Hague, William

Hampson, Dr Keith

Hannam, Sir John

Hargreaves, Andrew

Haselhurst, Alan

Hawkins, Nick

Hawksley, Warren

Heald, Oliver

Heathcoat-Amory, David

Hendry, Charles

Hill, James (Southampton Test)

Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)

Horam, John

Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter

Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)

Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)

Jack, Michael

Jackson, Robert (Wantage)

Jessel, Toby

Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)

Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)

Kilfedder, Sir James

King, Rt Hon Tom

Knapman, Roger

Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)

Knight, Greg (Derby N)

Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)

Kynoch, George (Kincardine)

Lawrence, Sir Ivan

Legg, Barry

Leigh, Edward

Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark

Lidington, David

Lightbown, David

Lilley, Rt Hon Peter

Luff, Peter

MacKay, Andrew

McLoughlin, Patrick

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